Plague, print and providence in early seventeenth century London.

Wootton, Philip (2013) Plague, print and providence in early seventeenth century London. Masters thesis, University of Wales, Trinity St David.

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The aim of this study is to consider whether and how the plague pamphlets of Thomas Dekker demonstrate understanding of divine providence, and, by comparison with other contemporary plague writing, what can be learned of religious attitudes in early seventeenth century London. Historians have come to characterise religion in England of this period as ‘post-Reformation’ rather than necessarily Protestant, although it remains a challenge to discover the beliefs of those who did not write for themselves. Cheap print publications provide one such source as they appear to have reached a wide readership, at least within relatively literate London. Decker’s plague pamphlets represent a body of work produced in response to the plague outbreaks in 1603, 1625 and 1630. They rarely use the word ‘providence’ in the context of plague, but came from what has been called ‘a broadly providentialist mind-set.’ Dekker is insistent that plague is the judgement of God on sin, and that the only answer is repentance. Judgment is always collective, on city or nation, not personalised to the individual. He does however give particular attention to those who flee the city to escape the plague or neglect the poor. At a time when the authorities were attempting to impose a policy of isolation on plague victims, it is striking that Dekker makes no effort to endorse the Plague Orders, and, unlike many with more theological education, has no time for secondary causes or ‘means’ by which the plague is carried. Indeed, he is so fixed on repentance as the answer that his theology becomes Pelagian, as he insists repentance has mechanical efficacy. This study supports the view of those historians who see providence as part of a continuum of ideas from before the Reformation. However it is also clear that not all providentialism was the same: others looked to God’s ‘special providence’, an idea not to be found in Thomas Dekker’s plague pamphlets.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Additional Information: Series: Carmarthen / Lampeter Dissertations;.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Dekker, Thomas, approximately 1572-1632, Plague, London History
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Divisions: Theses and Dissertations > Masters Dissertations
Related URLs:
Depositing User: John Dalling
Date Deposited: 26 Sep 2014 08:55
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2016 14:45

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